Today, 3 December 2020, is when the Western Naval Command celebrates the Killers Nite. The Killers are a special breed of people posted on small powerful ships. Readers of this paper may recollect an article on the Killers in which I brought out the yeoman service rendered by these spirited boys. They have a great legacy to live up to and one they celebrate every year as the Killers Nite. This is the day they remember and commemorate the 1971 war when the daring missile boats attack on 4 and 8 December, codenamed Op Trident and Op Python respectively, marked a decisive turn in the battle at sea. And the Killer saga was born.
While 4 December has since been celebrated as Navy day with many official functions and receptions, the Killers Nite held on a suitable day in the Navy week is a more cosy and intimate affair where the personnel of the missile boat squadron get together. There is a rousing entertainment programme, a light and sound show depicting the attacks, the launch of Killers journal “First Strike” and felicitation of those officers and sailors who took part in the war. Every Killers Nite is also a poignant memory of the past as Father Time ticks, drawing many in its wake and leaving us with fewer stalwarts in the succeeding years. Thus, it is important to cherish our association and nourish those bonds as long as possible.
This year owing to the Covid pandemic, Killers Nite is being conducted in a scaled down manner, within the squadron and with no outside guests. Today, I am reminded of last year’s Killers Nite where I had the great privilege of meeting a 1971 war hero Commodore Inderjit Sharma (IJ from hereon). To my utter delight, I came to be seated next to him and the very elegant Rekha Sharma at the dinner table. As a navy historian, I was aware that IJ was the winner of Vir Chakra and, as the Commanding Officer of INS Nirghat, had fired the opening shots of the war. Yet it was like a fanboy moment when I got to meet and interact with him for long and ask him many aspects of the strike. I was humbled to find a grounded, simple man, speaking in a matter of fact manner. As he will not be there for the Killers Nite this year, here is a salute to icons like IJ and his compatriots who gave the Indian Navy its finest hour.
Op Trident and Op Python have been deeply etched in the memories of the nation and commemorated for five decades now. The exploits of the Indian Navy during the 1971 India-Pakistan War are ingrained not only in the collective memory of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but also the world at large. The missile attacks on the ships and at Karachi harbour and the subsequent burning of its oil fields for almost a week, was described as the biggest bonfire in the Arabian Sea, by then CNS, Admiral S.M. Nanda, in his autobiography, The Man Who Bombed Karachi.
While it was the vision of Admiral SM Nanda, coupled with meticulous planning at the Directorate of Naval Operations and the Western Naval Command that went a long way in ensuring victory, the field work and execution was the onerous responsibility of the missile boat squadron. Due credit needs to be given to the planners for their foresight, but the hosannas should be for the men behind the machines who plunged into hostile territory sans fear or reluctance. The attacks with the missile boats were novel; the young Indian Navy had little or no experience in using the boats to storm an enemy’s port – not just any port, but it’s citadel—Karachi. Do picture these bold men on the high seas in a tiny vessel, an enemy at the vanguard and beyond them, oblivion. The grit, the nerve, the meticulous planning that would have gone into the successful execution of what many thought of as ‘mission impossible’, leaves one with goosebumps.
The scale of devastation caused by the missile boats was unexpected, considered hitherto implausible and far reaching. History records that after the attack on 4 December Pakistan Navy (PN) withdrew ships inside harbour and after the 8th, ordered them to de-ammunition. Thus, effectively, the maritime war on the western front was over within five days of commencement of the hostilities. In fact, the spectre of missile attacks so much haunted PN that false alarms on 5th Dec resulted in abandonment of search for survivors and on 6 December resulted in PNS Zulfikar being strafed by its own Air Force.
Fifty years after the war, the technicalities may have become blurry in our consciousness but legends about the heroics remain engraved forever. And IJ was one such hero in the frontlines. Around mid-November, 1971, IN Ships Vidyut and Nirghat had been forward deployed at Okha, along with INS Tir. On the orders of Cdr Mahendra Pratap, CO Tir, the missile boats would patrol the harbour in search of spurious radar echoes, that would be common occurrence during winters. Whilst their search would turn out to be futile, the patrols served as good night training to sail in restricted waters under strong tidal conditions.
Then Lt Cdr I.J. Sharma, CO, INS Nirghat, recalls in Cmde Vijay Jerath’s book, 25 Missile Boat Squadron, “All of nature, the world and indeed our nation including myself, seemed to be in a state of blissful tranquillity and peace—it was the sunset of 3 December 1971. Yet, the envelope ensconced in the pocket of my battle jacket marked ‘TOP SECRET’ shattered this pseudo sense of security. This envelope spelt out the fate of many an adversary at the hands of this small but formidable missile boat and the thirty odd men under my Command. In my pocket were the orders for Operation Trident, the first ever Naval Operation in the Indian Ocean—in modern times; the first ever attack on the citadel and might of the enemy—Karachi. My thoughts shifted to my men. How would they take it—I wondered? The time had come to justify our existence in the armed forces. Would we do justice to the confidence reposed in us by our Navy and our nation?”
In retrospect, we can say they did full justice to the confidence reposed in them, as they sailed stealthily into what many would describe as a suicidal operation, given the proximity to the enemy’s den. They could have been bombed, once they were detected, from air, land as well as water. Yet, they dared and INS Nirghat fired two SS-N-2-Styx missiles at the first detected target—PNS Khaibar, a battle class destroyer, almost thrice its own size. To be hit and sunk by a missile boat was a rude awakening for Pakistan. In fact, their initial reaction was of being hit by air attacks as missile boat attacks were completely unexpected.
Some authors and historians see the Karachi attacks as a more than fitting revenge for Pakistan’s raid on Dwarka during the 1965 War, of which PNS Khaibar had been a part. While that endeavour did not amount to much except destroy some civilian buildings and kill a cow, the Indian Navy had been unfairly targeted by some citizens and media who were not aware that the Government of the day had constrained the Indian Navy from operating north of Porbandar. However, Senior Navy officers of that time were determined that should another opportunity arise, the Indian Navy would take the offensive and storm the enemy at her gates. Thus, when Khaibar was the first vessel to be sunk in 1971, it seemed like poetic justice. As Maj Gen Ian Cardozo (Retd), in his book ‘The Sinking of INS Khukri’ wrote “Dwarka, I think, was suitably avenged”.
To return to our protagonist, after carrying out thorough checks of Nirghat’s readiness for the attack, I.J. Sharma, had a passing thought, as recalled in the book, 25 Missile Boat Squadron, “My thoughts too diverted to Bombay and my family. We were going on a mission, which some classified as suicidal. Will I see them again? But this was not the time to indulge in negative thoughts. Without cluttering our minds, the time was to execute plans for which we had trained ourselves for many months. With that, I made my way back to the Bridge. Having received the report that the ship was ready in all respects to proceed to sea and for action, I waited for the clock to strike the exact time to sail and ordered the engines to be started.”
The steely resolve of the men onboard the missile boat coupled with the ingenuity of the planners finally bore fruit. Nirghat drew first blood during the 1971 War, setting the stage for the other missile boats of the Killer Squadron and subsequently for Op Python in the days to come. This decapitation on Western Front gave the necessary fillip required to create a blockade between West and East Pakistan. And that is a story known to many. But what about the man himself? Speaking to him last year, all I could elicit from the sprightly 84 years ‘young man’ were few stray comments here and there interspersed with questions about the navy of today. One memorable line was his cryptic remark “I hail from present day Pakistan, my ancestral village was near Lyallpur, I have grown up in Tandlianwala. I have often wanted to visit my birthplace. But I wonder if Pakistan would give me the visa if they knew I was the first one to start the naval war.”
To know more about him then we have to turn elsewhere. To a recent biography by his daughter Priya Sharma Shaikh called Jungee: A Warrior’s Journey. It is a finely crafted, detailed and affectionate look at her father’s life. And it is a remarkable narrative. About overcoming penury and adversity. About assimilating the Navy’s cosmopolitan culture while staying rooted to tradition. About his tender relationship with his wife Rekha. About fighting norms of patriarchy and orthodoxy while dealing with his own devils. But, above all, it is a fascinating story of the transformation of a small village boy into an extraordinary leader and warrior.
IJ joined Navy as a sailor in 1954 and by the dint of his hard work and determination qualified to be an officer, getting commissioned in September 1960. His contemporaries were the 16th course NDA which has produced distinguished officers like Adm Sushil Kumar, VAdm Avnish Tandon, VAdm Verghese Koithara, RAdm Raja Menon and RAdm SK Das among others. Das says of him “To me personally IJ is sheer warmth as a friend, a source of joy and inspiration and an example to emulate”.
IJ proved his mettle early on as Commanding Officer of INS Sharda, a small vessel meant for patrolling and curbing smuggling in the Palk Strait. The magnificent performance of IJ and his men during the super cyclone that hit Dhanushkodi in December 1964 earned them national acclaim. IJ acted on his own initiative when communication with naval authorities in Chennai (then Madras), broke down, navigated his ships through hazardous waters, ferried people continuously through stormy seas and rescued more than 3,000 people among the fishing community and others who had been struck by the cyclone. For his leadership and service, IJ was awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) during the Republic Day honours in 1966 making him, possibly, the youngest recipient of the award, at less than 30 years.
Specialisation in Gunnery and selection for the prestigious command of INS Nirghat a few years later seemed like natural succession. Thus, it seemed destined when on the evening of 3 December, Cdr Khambatta, the Resident Naval officer in Okha handed over an envelope and told him “You should be proud to be part of independent India’s first offensive naval operation, the first ever attack on the fortress of the enemy’s strength—Karachi. This envelope spells death or glory for your men and you”.
That it was not death but glory alone, that Nirghat was the splendid opening act of a daring attack by the Indian Navy is now matter of history. The consequent award of Vir Chakra to IJ seemed a matter of course. The small ship of 30 people was awarded another Vir Chakra for the sailor who readied the missiles MN Singhal (Master Chief Electrical Artificer Power) and three ‘Mention in Despatches’. However, there is no doubt that the entire crew lived up to the ship’s motto ‘Dushmano Ka Nishchit Ghat, Nirghat Nirghat Nirghat’, which incidentally was carried forward by the next incarnation of Nirghat as well.
IJ carried on his distinguished service in various assignments before retiring prematurely as a Commodore in 1986. His sterling career was also embellished by his reputation as a good singer, as a yachtsman and as the leader of the Navy’s marching contingent on Republic Day 1975. The last development must have been particularly sweet considering that he was marked for special drill training when he joined the Navy. He continued his love for sea by doing almost a decade’s stint with Mazagon Docks Limited in shipbuilding and then in the private maritime sector before finally calling it a day.
IJ’s story is extraordinary for several reasons and at several levels. A boy whose ‘family was mercilessly driven out during partition coming back to decimate the pride of PN’ is very poetic but there are other—prosaic—reasons too. First, it is because we actually have this hero amidst us in flesh and blood, a real hero not the synthetic ones that our dream factories manufacture. Second, it is the story of indomitable determination of a person who was not fortune’s favoured child but took reverses in stride and stayed resolute at every step. Third, and most importantly, IJ represents the finest aspects of the Navy’s ecosystem—that it could recognise talent and groom him for leadership. A perfect example of this is that IJ, as a sailor on INS Mysore was the coxswain of the Captain (S.M. Nanda), who encouraged him to study and aim to become an officer. The fact that IJ, as an officer, many years later, played the opening act in Nanda’s grand design is testimony of destiny’s great hand.
In the early years of their marriage IJ was called ‘Jungee’ by his wife Rekha due to his combative, uncompromising, pugnacious nature. It was the same quality that stood Jungee in good stead when opportunity to make history presented itself. This is best seen in the small rousing speech he gave his men just few hours before the attack when he said “The Navy has trained us over the past two years and each of us has worked very hard to master our craft for this very moment. This operation’s success is in our hands, so when we fight let us fight with acuity, determination and courage”. It is precisely these attributes that defined Jungee.
Cmde Srikant Kesnur and Lt Cdr Divyajot are serving naval officers associated with the Naval History Project. While the article has been written as a first person account of the former it owes much to the research assistance of the latter. Views expressed are personal.
The photo credits are as follows: For the chart – Naval History Division, For others – Priya Sharma Shaikh
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Major push to Make in India in defence sector
To give a major push to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atamanirbhar Bharat mission, the Indian Army has joined hands with various technology firms to cater to the demands of the present security scenario.
The Army says if it has to remain operational all around, it cannot rely on obsolete technology hence latest advancement in the sector have to be adopted.
“The Northern Command is always combat ready in the times to come, the challenges will continue to increase so we have to rely on advance technology and keep on innovating,” Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi told The Daily Guardian on the sidelines of the Northern Technology Symposium held in Udhampur on Sunday.
North Tech Symposium was organized under the aegis of HQ Northern Command at Udhampur. Technology symposium, exhibition was organised wherein 162 companies from Indian defence industry including MSMEs, DRDO, DPSU, participated and exhibited their products.
In addition, 42 innovative solutions by Army establishments towards enhancement of combat potential of the Army were also on display. Lt Gen BS Raju, Vice Chief of Army Staff inaugurated the first of its kind technology symposium in Jammu and Kashmir.
Addressing the event, vice-chief of Army staff Lt Gen V S Raju said that he would have appreciated if the investors, capital ventures would have also shown interest in the event to boost the new start-up.
“To cope up with the ever-evolving and ever-changing security scenario, we also need to adopt changes and keep on innovating. I am happy that so many companies have shown interest to showcase their products at the North Tech Symposium. I am hopeful that in near future, many of the products would be put in use by the armed forces,” General Raju said.
In the wake of recent incidence of drone dropping in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab from across the Indo-Pak border, various companies have displayed their products including anti- drone system, drone jammer which can strengthen the forces and border guarding forces to thwart Pakistan’s plan of disturbing peace.
Other than drone dropping threats, detection of tunnels on Jammu and Kashmir border is also a major threat for the security forces these days as 11 tunnels have been detected on Indian-Pakistan border in the past few years. There was number of companies which showcased their products to detect underground tunnels by using artificial intelligence and special radar.
The symposium saw active participation from of senior officers from different forces including IDS, Army HQ, HQ ARTRAC, other Commands, HQ Northern Command, and its subordinate formations. This interactive platform for knowledge diffusion through Joint Army-Industry participation was an important step in the direction of the government’s initiative of “Make in India”.
On the first day of the seminar, the participants from Army and industry discussed the policy and procedures for expeditious procurement, Raksha Atmanirbharta initiatives by Indian Army, DRDO and Defence Public Sector Undertakings, how can private sector contribute towards surveillance system, weapon sights, drones and counter drone system and miscellaneous technologies like 3D printing.
The symposium served to showcase cutting edge technologies and innovative products providing solutions to some of the complex challenges faced by the security forces in Northern Command and also acted as an ideal platform for mutual exchange of ideas between the domestic defence industry and the Army. The technologies and products on display covered a wide canvas, the prominent ones being surveillance and situational awareness, tactical mobility, firepower, force protection, communications, combat medical facility, robotics and simulators.
The symposium was a huge success and Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi, AVSM lauded the initiative and innovations of all the vendors. The General Officer expressed his conviction that the plethora of technologies available indigenously can further boost the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” project of the nation. The spirit of Atmanirbharta demands that research and development, the domestic defence industry and Army have work in a synchronized manner to realise the nation’s vision.
ARMY MAJOR SUCCUMBS TO INJURIES DURING OPERATION IN KASHMIR
An Indian Army Major lost his life after slipping into a ravine during a counter-infiltration operation in the Uri sector of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday.
Late Major Raghunath Ahlawat, 34 was leading his team on a counter-infiltration operation based on reliable intelligence input. “To identify a safe approach for the team he led from the front while carrying out reconnaissance on a route through a steep cliff. “Unfortunately, he slipped due to bad weather and slippery conditions and fell 60 meters into a ravine. Critically injured, he succumbed to his injuries enroute while being evacuated to the nearest Army Hospital,” Indian Army officials said in a statement.
The Army paid tribute to the officer in a ceremony held in the Badami Bagh Cantonment in Srinagar led by Chinar Corps Commander Lieutenant General DP Pandey.
Major Ahlawat was commissioned into the Army in 2012 and hails from Dwarka, New Delhi and is survived by his wife and his parents.
The mortal remains of Late Maj Raghunath Ahlawat were taken for last rites to his native place, where he would be laid to rest with full military honours.
FOR 114 FIGHTER JETS, IAF FAVOURS ‘BUY GLOBAL MAKE IN INDIA’ ROUTE
For over USD 20 billion tender for manufacturing 114 multi-role fighter aircraft (MRFA) the Indian Air Force (IAF) would prefer to take the ‘Buy Global Make in India’ route over the strategic partnership policy model to produce the planes within the country.
‘Buy Global Make in India’ is a category of procurement process provided in the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 under Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to smoothen the acquisition of foreign weapon systems and their production within the country under the ‘Make in India’ in the defence programme. Along with the indigenous LCA Tejas and the 5th Generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft project, the 114 MRFA project would also be required by the IAF to maintain an edge over both the Northern and Western adversaries. We would prefer to go in for the Buy Global Make in India route which is preferred by the vendors also who are expected to take part in the programme, government sources said. Three American aircraft including the F-18, F-15 and F-21 (modified version of the F-16), Russian Mig-35 and Su-35 along with the French Rafale, Swedish Saab Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft are expected to participate in the programme. The Indian Air Force had also sought the views of these companies on the acquisition procedure that they would like to opt for in the programme and most of them have shown a preference for the Buy Global Make in India route only, they said.
The sources said that the force has also sought directions from the government on the project.
INDIA GETS DEFENCE SUPPLIES FROM RUSSIA, BUT PAYMENT MAY BECOME AN ISSUE
Amid the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, defence supplies from Moscow are continuing as the Indian defence forces have received a shipment of overhauled aircraft engines and spares. However, there is concern about whether this would continue in the near future as a solution for making payment to Russia has not yet been found.
“The defence forces have received shipments from the Russians very recently and it is still on. So far, there has not been any glitch in supplies for our forces,” a government source told ANI.
“However, there are concerns on whether these supplies can continue in the same manner as the Indian side cannot make payments to these Russian firms in view of the sanctions related to their banks,” he added.
The sources said the Indian and Russian sides are working to find a way this issue can be overcome and many options are being explored.
The latest supplies from Russia included overhauled fighter aircraft engines and spares for an aircraft fleet and they arrived through the sea route, the sources said.
India also received the final parts of the S-400 Triumf air defence system from Russia whose first squadron is operational with its elements deployed to take care of threats from both Pakistan and China.
India is one of the largest users of Russian weaponry including major platforms like fighter jets, transport aircraft, helicopters, warships, tanks, infantry combat vehicles and submarines.
Over the last couple of decades, it has broadened its source base by including equipment from countries like the US, France and Israel in a big way but the dependence on Russia still remains very high.
The Air Force is dependent majorly on the Russian supplies as its mainstay Su30 aircraft fleet is Russian along with its Mi-17 helicopter fleet.
The Army is also dependent on the Russian-origin T-90 and T-72 tank fleet for the armoured regiments.
IAF, ARMY BRASS WILL ASSESS LAC SITUATION
The top brass of the Indian Army and Air Force would be assessing the preparedness of their forces and infrastructure requirements along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as the militaries of both India and China continue to remain in a standoff position in eastern Ladakh.
The Indian Air Force brass would be meeting this week from 6 April to discuss the security situation including air operations along the northern borders. The Indian Army commanders led by Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane would be assessing the present deployments along eastern Ladakh and the northeastern sectors from 18 April onwards in the bi-annual commanders’ conference.
The top brass of the Indian Army had jointly discussed the infrastructure requirements and developments required by the Indian side from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh during a conference in Lucknow recently.
India has made several changes in its deployments post aggression shown by Chinese troops in April-May 2020.
India and China have been talking to each other at both military and diplomatic levels to address the issues but so far they have not been able to do so mainly because of Chinese reluctance. In recent talks to address the Patrolling Point 15 friction, they proposed a solution that was not acceptable to the Indian side.
Indian security establishment led by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval has been of the view that the issue would be resolved only if the Chinese completely disengaged and went back to pre April 2020 positions.The Indian side has strengthened its deployments manifold all along the LAC. The Indian Air Force has also started building advanced bases in the forward areas including infrastructure to operate fighter jets and attack helicopters from the forward fields such as Nyoma.
Sharp fall in infiltration of foreign terrorists, stone pelting: CRPF DG
There has been a sharp decline in the infiltration of foreign terrorists as well as in stone-pelting incidents in Jammu and Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370 from the erstwhile state, Director General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Kuldiep Singh said on Thursday.
However, noting the targeted killings in Jammu and Kashmir, the officer said, “Some time there is a spurt in terrorist incidents” and the recent killing in “periodic series” are among those, and “it occurs”. Replying to queries during a press briefing here at the CRPF Headquarters, Singh said, “CRPF immediately try to control terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir soon after it gets inputs. These incidents are not totally controlled by internal terrorist people who are there. On many occasions, it is controlled by those sitting across the border and it is directed whom to be targeted or not.”
The CRPF DG reiterated that “some directions comes from foreign lands too”, and thus, “terrorist incidents some times increase and sometimes decrease” “It does not mean that things are out of hand…You can see that the incidents of stone-pelting are almost nil. There has been a sharp decline in the number of infiltration of foreign terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir. Sometimes, there is a spurt in terrorist incidents but it happens,” he said.
The officer informed that the CRPF has neutralized 175 terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir and apprehended 183 from March 1, 2021, to March 16, 2022.
Meanwhile, the CRPF has recovered 253 arms from Jammu and Kashmir and seized 7,541 ammunition as well as 96.38 kg explosives, 23 Improvised Explosive Device (IED), 232 grenades, and 36 detonators from the Union Territory, Singh said. Further, he informed that as many as 91 encounters have taken place from March 1, 2021, to March 16 this year. CRPF is the premier Central Armed Police Force (CRPF) entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding the internal security of the country. It is deployed across the length and breadth of the country, assisting various state police in the discharge of their duties. CRPF is providing security cover to 117 protectees of various categories, he said adding that 32 women personnel have been inducted into the VIP Security Wing.
A total of 41 VIPs were provided security cover by the CRPF during recently concluded Assembly elections in five states, the DG said adding that the security of 27 protectees has been withdrawn post-elections. The CRPF chief also said that under financial assistance from the risk fund, ex-gratia for personnel martyred in action has been increased to Rs 30 lakhs from Rs 20 lakhs, and for all other cases, the ex-gratia has been increased to Rs 20 lakhs from Rs 15 lakhs.
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